PALATKA, Fla. – A controversial new program that’s aimed at saving lives has begun in Putnam County.
A health care facility that treats addiction and behavioral issues recently installed Narcan vending machines throughout several areas of Putnam County. Narcan is a nasal spray that is used to reverse the effects of a drug overdose.
Critics of the machines say it only enables addicts to continue doing dangerous drugs if they know they have a safety net. But Thomas Sheppard, a recovering drug addict, tells News4JAX the machines will save lives until addicts get the help they need.
“The heroin was bad. People were doing that. Then fentanyl came out and people started dying before we heard about Narcan,” he said.
SMA Healthcare in Palatka used grant money to install the vending machines at various locations in Putnam County. SMA Regional Vice President Nancy Russo explained why.
“For a small of a population that we are, the number of overdoses we have is unprecedented,” Russo said.
According to data SMA Healthcare retrieved from both fire and rescue and law enforcement agencies within Putnam County, two years ago there were 447 overdoes in Putnam County, 20 of which were fatal. First responders administered 140 doses of Narcan.
In 2022, the number of overdoses declined to 388, and the number of fatal overdoses also declined to 10, but the number of administered Narcan doses rose to 174.
When SMA Healthcare decided to introduce Narcan vending machines, they knew the idea was controversial.
“I know people think we’re trying to support drug addicts, but no, we’re trying to save lives,” Sheppard said.
“We hear that all the time, and I would say there needs to be better education on what addiction is,” Russo added. “Addiction is a brain disease. As much as people want to say it’s a moral deficit, once a drug has hijacked the pleasure center of your brain, it’s hard to come back from that without some kind of intervention.”
Each box of Narcan is free. There are two doses inside and there’s even instructions on how to administer the medicine.
Although the SMA Healthcare vending machines are only in Putnam County, it says it may eventually place machines in Volusia, St. Johns, Flagler and Marion counties where they have offices.